‘Romeo and Juliet’ is typically stereotyped as a romantic love story about ” a pair of star-crossed lovers”, however, beyond this soft exterior reveals a bitter tale of violence, conflict, and hate. The Montague’s and Capulets – two acrimonious households “both alike in dignity” are the root and cause of countless spiteful arguments and vicious murders. This rancorous conflict present in both families, ultimately leads to the fatal and horrific suicides of the two young lovers. Throughout the duration of this essay, the stereotypical image that ‘Romeo and Juliet’ portrays will be explored, leaving murder, violence, and conflict to play a major part in the classic ‘love’ story ‘Romeo and Juliet’.
The famous playwright, William Shakespeare wrote ‘Romeo and Juliet’ in 1564. It was first performed in the extravagant London Globe theatre to a blood – thirsty 16th Century audience. Queen Elizabeth I , who reigned at this thrilling period, delighted in private viewings of his most famous plays, as she had a love for his exhilarant form of entertainment. In a typical 16th century society excluding modern technicalities, people craved for entertainment. With many talented writers competing to satisfy the audience’s appetite for blood, it was of great importance that Shakespeare made his plays as exhilarating and thrilling as possible. ‘Romeo and Juliet’ was popular with the audience as it portrayed images of romance, hate, conflict, murder, and betrayal, leaving them stunned and gasping for more.
Act 1 scene 1 is the opening scene to the play which first introduces the hate and resent present within the families. In this dramatic scene, many characters attitudes and personalities are portrayed. A bitter conversation between four servants from the Montague and Capulet households cunningly opens the play. Throughout this tense dialogue, we are aware that a fight will commence as the characters taunt each other with lines such as,
” I will bite my thumb at them, which is disgrace to them if they bare it.” (Lines 40 & 41.)
This gesture is a deliberate, insulting provocation toward the Montague servants. When Romeo’s cousin Benvolio Montague arrives on the scene, however, he portrays a role of ‘peacemaker’ in an attempt to pacify the situation.
“What, drawn and talk of peace? I hate the word, as I hate hell, all Montague’s, and thee. Have at thee coward!” (Lines 68 – 70)
This quote extracted from Tybalt Capulets dialogue reveals the strong hateful relationship between the two families. In this, he slyly taunts the servants provoking a malicious fight.
After the head of both families attempt to join the vicious fray, the powerful character, prince of Verona arrives at the bloody scene. Resulting in a severe warning to both families;
” Three civil brawls of an airy word” (line 88)
” If ever you disturb our streets again, your lives shall pay the forfeit of the peace” (line 96)
Threatening the households with execution.
The conclusion of the Prince’s warning plays a major part in this violent scene, as it sets a tense atmosphere for the rest of the play.
The second violent scene to commence is Act 3 scene 1. This scene contains spiteful arguments and vicious murders from both adjacent families. ‘Appertaining rage’ portrays a horrific image for this malicious, malevolent scene.
Benvolio and Mercutio Montague open the scene. Throughout their dialogue it is made apparent that the capulets are looking for trouble, this concerns ‘peacemaker’ Benvolio as he suggests
” Lets retire. The day is hot, the capels are abroad.” (Line 2)
Thus revealing he does not want to fight. Mercutio, on the other hand, is in a very aggressive, stubborn mood, with the lines,
” By my heel, I care not.” (Line 38)
This suggests that the Capulet’s do not scare or threaten him as, using this un couth insult shows derision towards them. Bitterness, resent and tension is reflected in this scene when Tybalt and pertruchio Capulet disrupt the peaceful atmosphere. This is present in Tybalt and Mercutio’s lines;
“Gentlemen, good den; a word with one of you.” (Tybalt line 40)
” And but one word with one of us? Couple it with something, make it a word and a blow.” (Mercutio lines 41 & 42)
This violently increasing tension ultimately leads to a vicious fight between both Mercutio, and Tybalt. The malicious brawl, being the result of Tybalt’s taunting gesture, that
” Mercutio, thou consortest with Romeo.” (Line 46)
Insulting Mercutio’s masculinity. When Romeo arrives on the intense, belligerent scene, Tybalt constantly insults him in a desperate attempt to provoke a fight. Romeo, however responds calmly and clandestinely gestures to his love for Juliet. Mercutio, incensed at Romeo’s apparent cowardice challenges Tybalt:
” Tybalt, you rat catcher, will you walk?” (Line 76)
(The term ‘rat catcher’ is used in referring to his name which in the story of ‘Reynard the fox’ was that of an evil cat.) After a bloody, violent struggle, Mercutio is fatally wounded. On his deathbed, he curses the two households with
” A plague on both your houses!” (Line 94)
This quote is very emotional for Romeo as Mercutio is one of his closest friends. Mercutio blames him for his fatal injury because of his affair with Juliet, scape- goating both families’ problems onto the love-struck Romeo. He then tragically dies. After realising Juliet’s beauty and love has made him “effeminate”, Romeo, incensed with anger, bitterly sets out to cold – bloodedly take revenge on the ‘evil’ Tybalt. Tybalt is viciously slain. When bemused Citizens of Verona begin to congregate around the slain, lifeless body, Benvolio suggests
“Romeo away, be gone. Stand not amazed, the prince will doom the death, if thou art taken” (lines 138 & 139)
With this Romeo flees from the killing. The prince is then re-introduced and questions Benvolio on the brutal killings. He then pronounces judgement:
” For that offence immediately we do exile him hence.” (Line 190)
For Romeo this sentence is worse than execution, – he will not be able to visit his newly wed love, Juliet.
This scene is important to the over all context of the play as it combines all the fatal elements; vicious murders, conflict, hate, revenge, betrayal and love. The consequences for Romeo in this scene are very serious and contribute to the horrific suicides at the end of the play.
The final scene, Act 5 scene 3, concludes the main themes suggested throughout the duration of the play. It begins with Paris grieving over Juliet’s ‘death’. Romeo, who has not had word of the plan to flee Verona with his perfect spouse, slowly opens the tomb to reveal the ‘dead’ body of Juliet. With that, Paris arises and persistently threatens Romeo. He warns Paris not to tempt his anger,
” Tempt not a desperate man.” (Line 58)
Nevertheless, it ends in a fierce fray, tragically resulting in the death of Paris.
Romeo is extremely emotional and struck by the compelling beauty of Juliet. Swearing that he will stay with her forever, he swallows the poison leading to his mis – fortunate death. For the audience this is extremely sad and frustrating as we are involved in the plan. Juliet then awakens to find the corpses of Paris and her beloved husband Romeo.
” O churl, drunk all, and left no friendly drop to help me after? I will kiss thy lips; haply some poison yet doth hang on them, to make me die with a restorative.” (Lines 163-165)
With this, the emotional Juliet violently thrusts a dagger into her chest, ultimately leading to the horrific suicides of the love – struck couple. This scene combines the two main elements of the play – the stereotyped image of love and the strong idea of violence and conflict. It is also extremely violent as it is a result of both families continuous hate and resent towards each other.
If I were given the opportunity to direct act 5 scene 3, however, I would displace the killing of Paris as I feel it interrupts the visual image of the ‘love story’ that tragically ends with the deaths of the loved characters we have followed emotionally throughout the duration of the play. The set would be inside a candle lit church with peaceful music interrupting the cold silence. Juliet would lie in an open top coffin dressed in an elegant white gown to emphasise her beauty. It would create a calm, religious atmosphere causing the audience to feel frustration when Romeo takes his life. As Romeo dramatically swallows the poison, Juliet would violently open her eyes and awake. Whilst waiting for the poison to take effect, they would stare longingly into each other’s eyes. There would be complete silence creating a tense, emotional atmosphere. Romeo would then tragically close his eyes and pass away. With this, Juliet screams at the top of her voice to show her sad, frustrated emotions. Friar Lawrence would have heard this scream and just as he burst through the doors, a loud gunshot interrupts the silence leaving the love struck couple dead. The speechless friar would stand watching in total amazement as guards discover the horrific corpses.
Finally, to conclude, I think that this play follows five main elements of conflict, violence, love, revenge, and betrayal. I think that it is equally balanced between those strong images. The stereotypical link between ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and love, has been explored leaving the violent aspects to become apparent. My favourite scene within the play is the concluding scene in which the horrific suicides occur. I favour this because it sums up the meaning of the whole play. It allows you to realise the fatal story of two innocent young lovers ripped apart due to bitterness and resent. How two families hate can lead to so many deaths and vicious conflict. This story is very emotional with several different views portrayed.